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Bird flu focus shifts from Asia to Africa

Published on 29 November, 2006, Last updated at 23:20 GMT

By Vissuta Pothong

Asia's relative success in fighting bird flu could see a shift in resources to Africa where the virus is spreading among some of the world's poorest countries, a top U.N. animal health official said on Wednesday.

The latest human death in Indonesia and an outbreak in poultry in South Korea has shown the H5N1 virus is far from being eradicated in Asia, where it re-emerged in late 2003 and later spread to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

But previously hard-hit countries such as Thailand and Vietnam have had success in containing the virus, Samuel Jutzi, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization's animal production and health division, told Reuters.

"Asia has been, with domestic resources and external resources, in a position to be rather successful while other parts of the world, particular Africa, are much less," he said. "Africa is much weaker, economically and structurally, to respond," he said.

More than 50 countries have battled the virus, which mostly affects birds but has killed 153 people since 2003 and fanned fears of a global human pandemic. Among them are some of the poorest countries in Africa -- Uganda, Niger, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Djibouti. Jutzi said bird flu experts meeting in Bamako, Mali, next week were expected to make Africa a top priority. "This time, the focus is on Africa," he said.

"Africa is much less in a position to control the disease than Asia." The World Bank said on Tuesday as much as $1.3 billion more was needed to fight bird flu, with more than $500 million of that going to Africa. Asia's latest bird flu outbreak in South Korea, its first in three years, showed that no country could let their guard down. "The outbreak is not a surprise. If you look at South Korea, they are handling the outbreak very effectively as they did last time," Jutzi said.

Vietnam, China and Thailand, where the government has reported no new outbreaks since August, had made great strides in detecting and containing the H5N1 virus, he said.

But the international community should continue to help Indonesia, where authorities confirmed the country's 57th bird flu death on Tuesday, as well as impoverished Laos and Cambodia. "It is a very difficult situation in Indonesia.

The virus is basically active throughout the country," he said of a virus which has spread to 30 of 33 provinces. "I think the international community still has to invest more in helping Indonesia to get on top of the problem," he said.


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